Count on Cucumbers for a Fresh Summer Treat
By Zac Hoppenstedt
Just a few weeks after Memorial Day and it’s easy to feel like you missed the boat when you look at recommended seeding dates for favorite summer vegetables. Where do these recommendations come from anyway? Typically, they are based on the seed’s ability to germinate in certain soil temperatures and the plant’s cold hardiness which is relative to the last spring frost and first fall frost in our area (typically mid-April and mid-October respectively). Likewise, recommended seeding dates are based on the ideal time when growers want to be harvesting/eating the edible plant parts, i.e. days to maturity.
For example, cucurbit crops like cucumbers, watermelon, squash, cantaloupes, etc., are native to the Middle East and are suited to grow during warm, dry Kansas summers. But most watermelon varieties, take ‘Crimson Sweet’ for example which was famously bred at K-State in the 1960s, can require 80-90 days to produce fruit. So growers opt to seed these plants earlier in the spring, around mid-May, so they can be biting into a fresh slice or enjoying a frozen melon ball during the peak of summer.
And while there is still time to seed a watermelon or a honeydew if you have space and patience for September harvest, might I interest you in a similar relative? We’re talking a smaller footprint (perfect for container growers and vertical trellising), diverse varieties to choose from and faster days to harvest—as little as 50 days. Yes, if you read the title you know I’m talking about cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)! Many growers start their first crop in May, but also make a second planting in mid- to late summer. This helps avoid insect pressures by planting between pest life cycles, all while ensuring a late summer harvest. Cucumbers are refreshing and great to have freshly picked and on hand. They can be used in salads or pickled for longer shelf life. See Preserve it Fresh, Preserve It Safe Cucumbers (MF1184) for more information on pickling.